CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Chris Perez had an unceremonious exodus from Cleveland.
As the calendar flipped toward late September, he lost his grip on the closer's gig and became an observer as the Indians surged to a postseason berth.
Prior to a tumultuous final season with the organization -- one that included a misdemeanor drug abuse charge, a career-high 4.33 ERA and an injured pitching shoulder -- Perez twice earned his way onto the American League All-Star team to represent the Tribe. During his five-year stint in Cleveland, he compiled a 3.33 ERA and 124 saves, the third-most in franchise history. At times, he rubbed fans, teammates and those in the organization the wrong way by speaking his mind about attendance, shunning certain media members or riling up opposing players with hand gestures.
On Monday night, the Indians -- who released Perez last October -- will begin a three-game series against the Dodgers, who signed Perez to a one-year, $2.3 million contract in December.
Perez recently spoke with cleveland.com about his tenure in Cleveland, his new outlook on his career and his experience with the Dodgers. The right-hander has racked up a 5.20 ERA in 27 2/3 innings this season. He said outfielder Yasiel Puig, the 23-year-old Cuban sensation, "is like a big kid," and that Clayton Kershaw's no-hitter earlier this month was "probably the most dominant start I've ever seen. It was fun to watch." He also said he hasn't paid much attention to how the Indians have fared this season.
Here are the highlights from the interview with Perez.CC: How would you explain your output this season (27 2/3 innings, 26 hits, 26 strikeouts, but 5.20 ERA)?
CP: I've had some bad luck and also some bad mechanics. The first month or so, I was still getting results and they didn't come to me with anything. Then I had a couple hiccups and now the last month or so, we've been changing stuff up. We're definitely going in the right direction. I had to take a couple steps back to go forward.
I got into some bad habits the last couple years, just because my arm wasn't feeling good. Just some lazy habits to try to generate velocity. I had to go back to step one with my mechanics and they've been really good with that here. Every outing, I'm working on a little thing here, a little thing there. It was feeling foreign to me. Hopefully in future outings I'll feel more normal and more like myself.CC: Vinnie Pestano, who was dealing with mechanical flaws, was sent to Triple-A to sort out his issues. He said he could never have fixed his delivery at the big league level, because there was too much to correct and he couldn't afford to cost the team games. How have you managed to rectify your problems while at the big league level?
CP: It's tough up here because you're trying to win games. The way we play, we've had a lot of close games, so there's really not a lot of opportunities to go out there and just say, 'Hey, go out there and work on this. Try to get a guy out.' It's definitely tough up here to go through those kinds of things, but at the same time, luckily I'm still here at this level and I'm working on the side to figure it out.CC: Your fastball velocity is back to 94.3 mph this season, after it tapered off to 92.8 mph last year. (It's currently at its highest average since 2010, when Perez posted a 1.71 ERA in 63 appearances with the Tribe.) How important has it been to be able to throw as hard as you used to?
CP: It's more frustrating than anything, going through this little stretch here, because it's one thing if you don't have your stuff and your arm is hurting and the numbers aren't there, but this is the best my arm has felt in two or three years, so it's more frustrating, just because I should be able to pitch like I used to since my velocity is back. The last few years, that wasn't the case. I had to hit my spots and rely on movement. This year, I've been able to challenge guys and blow it by them. It just hasn't been working.CC: What triggered your late-season struggles last year with the Indians?
CP: It was just all the bad habits I got into in the first half of the year just to get by, when I got healthy and was throwing hard, it all flared up at once. I was flying open earlier. Early in the year, I was flying open and trying to throw it as hard as I could. When I had velocity, it just counteracted it. I was showing the ball to the hitter earlier. My front shoulder was flying open, so they could see the ball easier. And then also, just trying to get results while we were in a pennant race, it all kind of just came together and I had bad results.CC: How difficult was it not to contribute during the final playoff push?
CP: It wasn't that bad. We won. Luckily I didn't cost us a playoff spot by my troubles or anything. We still ended up winning a Wild Card spot and making it to the one-game playoff.
But personally, it was tough. I had put in four years on a bad team just hoping to get to that point and when we got there, I wasn't a part of it. That's baseball. You live and learn. It was a good learning experience. It all worked out where I'm now able to be here with the Dodgers, which is awesome.CC: You'll be a free agent at the end of the season. Have you thought about how your career might play out?
CP: Closing is fun, but I've been there and done that. Now I just want to win. If closing and winning go together, then fine. But if not, then I'd rather be on a good team and help try to get to a championship than close for a crappy team.CC: Will it be strange to face some of your former teammates?
CP: It might be weird to face one or two guys, but other than that, I just hope we beat them. I don't care about facing anybody. I've faced some of them when they're on different teams anyways. The only guys it would be kind of weird to face would be [Michael] Brantley or [Jason] Kipnis, just because I played with them the longest. But everybody else, I'm just hoping it would be another out.CC: Will it be nice to catch up with some of the guys while they are in town?
CP: A couple of them, like [Josh] Tomlin and [Justin] Masterson. But for the most part, not really. Nobody in the bullpen is really the same. Maybe [Cody Allen]. There are a couple guys. The coaching staff, I wouldn't care to see again, no.CC: How would you evaluate your five years with the Indians?
CP: It ended a lot better than it started, team-wise. What we were able to do last year was great. Personally, I didn't pitch the way I wanted to the last two months of my time there, but overall, I gave it everything I had almost every time I went out there and for the most part, I did my job. I had a good time doing it. I have a couple good memories, but at the same time, there was a lot of turnover with coaches, pitching coaches, managers. It wasn't really stable. I think for the most part, I had a good time there, but it ended on a bad note for me, but overall for the team, it was great. So, it was fine. Things worked out for me. I had a couple good years there. They gave me the chance to close and I established myself. Hopefully it'll keep me in the league longer because of that.CC: What was it like to see Progressive Field packed for a playoff game?
CP: It was exciting, with everybody waving their towels and stuff. It was louder than Opening Day, which is usually the only time it's sold out. It was a night game, so it was a little more energetic. But I knew I had no chance of pitching, so I was just observing, and we didn't score, so it was kind of a letdown. But at the same time, it was good what they accomplished. That fan base was probably really excited going into this year and trying to build on it. It was a good year for Tito and it changed the atmosphere and culture there.CC: Do you miss anything about Cleveland?
CP: Not really. Maybe Lucky's Cafe in Tremont.